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ASEAN Civil Society Conference

ASEAN Civil Society Conference
Date/Time: Oct 27, 2007 / 5.00pm

Chairman's Statement [download]

26-28 October 2007, Singapore – At the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2007, representatives from civil societies, governments and the ASEAN secretariat came together to discuss the role of civil societies in ASEAN. The conference was organized by Singapore Institute of International Affairs, and supported by the ASEAN Secretariat.

The conference began with opening remarks from the chairman of SIIA and the chairman of the conference, Assoc. Professor Simon Tay. He first reminded the participants that the sense of interdependence among ASEAN members has gained more momentum in recent years, and the civil societies in the region, with a variety of focuses, have also become more active in the same period of time. Accordingly, he stated that there is a need for civil societies in ASEAN to come together and create a practical input for the operation of ASEAN in the future.

The guest-of-honor, the ASEAN Secretary-General, Mr. Ong Keng Yong, delivered his keynote speech, which focused on the state of the new ASEAN Charter. In his speech, he first explained to the participants some of the important challenges that ASEAN has faced during the last five years. He mentioned that competition from China and India for foreign investments and security issues in the region after 9/11 were ASEAN’s main challenges. He also mentioned globalization as a driving force for the many changes within the region. The rapid growth of Vietnam was an example. With these challenges in mind, he stated the need for the ASEAN Charter as a step to increase solidarity in the region and to be more competitive at a global level. In his words, the goals of the Charter are to formalize ASEAN, to enable ASEAN to better present itself as a community at the international level and to emphasize the region’s commitment to human rights, rule of law and democracy.

The first session followed. Professor Walter Woon, one of the drafters of the Charter, explained to the participants that the ASEAN charter is a compromised and diplomatic document, which intends to create a closer community with a feeling of “family”. Two new features of ASEAN will be created by the Charter: the ASEAN dispute settlement mechanism and the ASEAN human rights body. In the discussion afterward, all participants welcomed the Charter and new ASEAN human rights body as a positive sign for the region’s future development. Participants agreed that civil societies should play a role in the ratification process within each ASEAN country.

Session two of the conference focused on ASEAN economic community and competitiveness. The lead discussants and participants acknowledged the positive impacts of economic cooperation of the region. However, many were still concerned about the negative effects of economic integration on the environment, human rights and immigrant workers within the region. Participants would also like for ASEAN leaders to equally distribute the benefits of economic growth in order to address poverty within the region.

In the third session, the participants proposed that ASEAN consider human rights promotion and protection as an integral part of its working principles. More generally, participants would like to see human rights mainstreamed into core ASEAN working agendas. It should be noted that all participants welcomed the creation of ASEAN human right body and the ASEAN Charter. However, they also called for a quick drafting of term of reference for the Body, in order to put it into operation as soon as possible. On this matter, participants also agreed that civil societies should play a role in the drafting process along with the ASEAN secretariat.

On environmental issues, the main themes were sustainability in the region, climate change and energy security. In the discussion, the panelists and participants acknowledged climate change as a priority. Most participants did not agree with some of the measures adopted by ASEAN governments to deal with the problem such as the shift towards the use of nuclear power and bio-fuels in some ASEAN countries. Instead, they recommended that ASEAN nations should increase their reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and promote greater energy efficiency. Discussants acknowledged that the problem of deforestation and forest fire of the region are one of the main contributors of global climate change and the need for ASEAN as a community to address it. In addition, they agreed on the importance of creating adaptation program within ASEAN states to the consequences of climate change. In summary, they proposed that ASEAN find a common understanding on how to respond to climate change as a community. Participants also would like to see ASEAN play a greater role in the negotiation of the post-Kyoto climate regime. Civil societies agreed that they can participate in the effort by creating awareness and by urging the governments to react to climate change more actively.

The last two sessions of the conference focused on additional priorities of ASEAN from civil societies’ perspective and how to make ASEAN a more “people-oriented” community. On the first agenda, participants firstly discussed women rights within ASEAN and the problem of implementation. All participants acknowledged the HIV-AIDS, women trafficking, child prostitution and political rights of women in the region as the problems for women. They continued to discuss the situation in Myanmar. In general, participants showed their support for the statement of ASEAN governments at the UN conference in calling for a peaceful reconciliation process. All representatives from civil societies also acknowledged the need for more coordination within the civil society groups in Myanmar. On the last session on how to structure a more accessible ASEAN for people and civil societies, participants called for ASEAN to follow the best practices adopt by other international organization. They suggested that ASEAN create a mechanism for communication within civil societies and individuals and make ASEAN more accountable to its citizens.

In the closing session, the chairman gave a summary of the discussion and emphasized the important role of civil societies in the future of operation of ASEAN. He promised that the recommendation from the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2007 in the form of chairman’s statement will be submitted to the ASEAN Secretary General, and the massage will be put forward to the heads of ASEAN governments in the coming ASEAN summit.



ChannelNewsAsia, 18 Sep 2007
ASEAN Civil Society Conference to be held in S'pore in October

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